By Suzi Parker
LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (Reuters) - People from Texas to New York were bundling up on Thursday against winter weather that closed schools and businesses, blanketed roads and power lines with ice and threatened to disrupt travel across a wide swath of the United States.
The southern plains and central region, including Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas were expected to be especially hard hit, according to the National Weather Service.
In Little Rock, Arkansas, people scrambled to stock their cupboards as temperatures plunged. Many grocery stores reported running low on bread, milk, bottled water and snack foods by noon Thursday.
Holly Vines, a Little Rock resident, hoped she could still find something on the shelves.
"I'm going to get coffee, cigarettes and cat food then I'm going to get my sable coat out of storage in case I have to sleep in it," she said.
Utility provider Entergy Arkansas said it was bringing in an additional 6,700 workers to help with downed power lines and outages that could last a week. The company urged people to make sure they had flashlights, fresh batteries, food, water and first-aid kits.
Many roads and highways in northwest Arkansas were covered with ice. Schools, including the University of Arkansas, were closing early or canceled classes entirely. Arkansas State Police said there were numerous reports of car accidents.
"In some locations, a glaze of ice may span several days and last into the weekend," meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said on AccuWeather.com.
Missouri and states eastward and north to New York are likely to see more snow than ice as the wintry weather hits Thursday evening, bringing up to 6 inches of snow to cities including St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Albany, New York, meteorologists said.
The National Weather Service said 4 inches to 8 inches of snow was forecast for Missouri overnight and into Friday.
"This evening, we will see travel conditions severely impacted," said weather service meteorologist Andy Foster in Springfield, Missouri.
The frigid weather sweeping across the Midwest and Southern Plains follows a storm that dumped up to 22 inches of snow in parts of Minnesota earlier this week.
Conditions were so harsh in South Dakota that an ice skating rink in Rapid City was closed this week to protect public safety, officials said. The temperature was forecast on Thursday night to drop to 18 degrees Fahrenheit below zero (minus 27 degrees Celsius).
The rink annually draws about 20,000 visitors in a state used to severe winter weather, but the cold and accompanying high winds this week are too extreme, said Megan Whitman, spokeswoman for the group that runs the rink.
The U.S. west coast is not being spared the chill, with record-setting low temperatures predicted through the weekend in parts of California and Oregon that could threaten citrus and other crops in the area, AccuWeather.com officials said.
(Additional reporting by Carey Gillam in Chicago; Karen Brooks in Austin, Texas and Kevin Murphy in Kansas City, Missouri; Editing by Dan Grebler and Grant McCool)